'NHS 111 faces serious problems and should be delayed'
17 February 2012
NHS 111, the new number patients will be expected to use for non-emergency health calls, could overburden GP surgeries and the ambulance service, reduce service quality, and waste taxpayers' money, if the government does not relax its deadline for a 2013 rollout, doctors have warned.
The British Medical Association said it supported the idea that NHS 111 could give patients and easily accessible phone service for urgent health issues.
But it raised concerns about "serious problems" that had arisen. GPs were said to have warned of unresolved issues from the pilot test areas. The government was accused of rushing the procurement of providers without paying careful reference to trials. And the BMA said decisions were not being driven by clinical commissioners, the people who would be responsible for the service.
"GPs have been telling us for quite some time about problems with the way the NHS 111 is being rolled out and the wider impact it could have on the health service," said Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee.
"In Shropshire GPs are worried that patients will actually receive lower quality care as the clinicians who triage all calls to their out-of-hours provider are to be replaced by non-clinicians when NHS 111 takes over.
"If there was a more flexible deadline in place then local commissioners would have time to work out a solution with NHS 111 so that this option could be kept for their area.
"The results of the pilots are due to be published imminently and we are worried that the strict deadline in place at the moment means lessons from these won't be learned and mistakes will just be repeated."
Buckman said more flexibility would allow clinical commissioners to get "properly involved" in how NHS 111 was rolled out.
But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley
has already made commitments as to when the service will be fully rolled out. In October he said NHS 111 would be available "everywhere in England" in 18 months.
Responding to the BMA's concerns public health minister Anne Milton said NHS 111 would benefit patients by "improving access to NHS services and ensuring they get the right care at the right time".
"We will consider the BMA's concerns," she said. "We agree that any long-term decision should be made with full approval from local commissioning groups. They should be fully engaged with the approach to delivering NHS 111."
Publicservice.co.uk has previously reported on problems with NHS 111, with official statistics over several months showing the potential for more than a million calls to the service to go unanswered
. Defending such indications, health minister Simon Burns
said the NHS 111 pilot areas were showing an "encouraging picture".